THE ILLINOIS Department of Transportation marked a year of significant accomplishments in 2012 under the leadership of Secretary Ann Schneider, providing immediate benefits to residents and industries throughout the state and setting the stage for continued progress in 2013 and long-term economic growth.
Most notably, IDOT broke ground in June on construction of the Macomb Bypass that will connect U.S. 36 on the west edge of Macomb to U.S. 67 north of the city – the final link in the 532-mile Chicago-Kansas City Expressway. Funding is in place for all phases of the project except paving. Schneider has worked hard to close that gap, and also has developed a plan for phased construction that could see two lanes of the bypass open to traffic by late 2015 or 2016.
º IDOT identified $675 million in additional transportation funds for the 2013-2018 road program, including $275 million that could be spent in fiscal 2013, subject to legislative approval. A substantial portion of that amount comes from savings realized on projects costing less than expected, a reflection of cost-effective planning by IDOT as well as favorable economic conditions.
º IDOT agreed to a phased-construction schedule that calls for building the first two lanes of the bypass, at an estimated cost of $32.5 million, rather than delaying construction until funding for all four lanes – estimated to cost between $70 million and $80 million – is available. Under that accelerated plan, traffic could be travelling on the first two lanes of the bypass by late 2015 or early 2016.
Clearly, Schneider understands the critical role that transportation infrastructure plays in the economic well-being of West-Central Illinois and downstate, with IDOT also breaking ground on a $47 million road improvement project in Moline, completing construction on time of a $27 million Route 40 bridge in Rock Falls, and completing construction of a $16 million railroad grade crossing in Galesburg, among other projects.
In the Chicago area, the $303 million three-year reconstruction of Wacker Drive by the Chicago Department of Transportation -- a project funded wholly by IDOT – was completed on time and within budget. IDOT also has begun engineering a $375 million redesign of the Circle Interchange where four major expressways come together near downtown Chicago
Overall, IDOT completed 2,498 highway projects in 2012 totaling $2.8 billion, including improvements to 900 miles of pavement and repair or replacement of 260 bridges.
Knowing that future progress depends on funding at both the state and federal level, Schneider worked with Gov. Pat Quinn's office, legislative leaders, state officials and Illinois congressmen and U.S. Senators to help improve federal funding for Illinois under legislation signed by President Obama in July that funds transportation through September 2014.
Illinois' share of federal highway funding rose to 3.67 percent – the highest in 15 years – and the state's ranking rose from 7th to sixth in the nation with a return of 99 cents on every dollar sent to Washington – up from 94 cents. Illinois also fared well in transit funding, rising to third in the nation from 5th.
IDOT, in looking ahead, also adopted a long range plan that goes well beyond the generalities of past plans to establish specific goals and action agendas, and developed the state's first multi-modal long-range plan – a streamlined document that integrates plans for highways, rail, public transportation and aeronautics.
IDOT's responsibilities extend to other areas of importance to our region, including airports and waterways. IDOT's Aeronautics Division studied 116 airports throughout Illinois and concluded that they contributed $40 billion to the state's economy. IDOT also took the lead in tracking water levels on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers during a summer marked by serious drought.
Schneider also has been a strong advocate of the Mid-America Port in the South Quincy Industrial District. Efforts have been under way for years to fully develop the site, the only three-state port facility in the nation. Schneider discussed new funding possibilities with area transportation advocates during a January meeting in Springfield, at which time she also pointed out the critical need for pension reform.
Illinois has the weakest pension system in the nation, with an unfunded liability of $97 billion that is growing by $17 million daily. Schneider noted the pension burden forces the state to divert funds from critical areas such as transportation and vital social services to pension costs, and drives up the cost when the state issues bonds. On Friday, Standard and Poors downgraded Illinois' credit rating to A-. That negative rating is six levels below the top rating and the worst in the nation along with California.
Schneider also has been a strong proponent of improving traffic and workforce safety. Seat belt usage rose in 2012 to 93.6 percent – its highest ever – and Illinois posted its fourth year of less than 1,000 traffic fatalities. Work zone fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1999, and Illinois received the highest rating possible from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. IDOT also has been a pioneer in championing workforce diversity and use of qualified minority contractors.
2012 marked the first full year that Schneider served as Transportation Secretary, the first woman to hold that position in Illinois. She had served as interim secretary since July 2011, and prior to that as chief operations officer and chief fiscal officer for IDOT and chief fiscal officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
Schneider's broad exposure to state operations no doubt played a role in the success that IDOT was able to achieve in ensuring that ongoing projects moved forward, that vital new projects take root and that the agency's planning, policies and organization are well-matched to respond current and future challenges.
While Schneider is not an engineer, she is clearly a masterful administrator with a deep understanding of the many factors that impact IDOT revenue, expenses and ability to deliver transportation value to the residents of Illinois.
Gov. Quinn is commended for recognizing these qualities and for having the vision to appoint as secretary someone well-grounded in state and transportation finances. Illinois has been served by many great Transportation Secretaries, but few possessed the financial expertise that Schneider has brought to the job. That expertise has been critical to advancing a meaningful transportation agenda during the state's deepening fiscal crisis.
Transportation infrastructure is critically important to the economic well-being of Illinois and of this region, providing the framework for long-term growth and improvements in the quality of life that follow.
Ann Schneider, in her first full year as secretary, has shown that she understands those principles and inspires confidence that critical transportation progress, with the support of the Governor and Legislature, will continue.
Schneider has served the Governor and the people of Illinois extremely well during this period of financial crisis, and we look forward to the progress that will be made on the future.